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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Helga: Growing Up in Hitler's Germany is a work of historical fiction by Karen Truesdell Riehl. It is based on the true story of a young girl who was ordered to become a part of Hitler's Jugend when she was 10 years old. Helga and the other girls in her group were plied with sweets and cookies while their leaders instilled in them a fanatical love of Hitler, who was revered by them as a godlike and all-knowing being. Helga's parents had no way to counteract the programming she was subjected to, as any intervention would result in a knock on the door and their disappearance. As the war progressed, Helga was evacuated with other Jugends to a hotel where food was abundant, but there was no freedom. Their letters back home were collected and examined before sending, and any objections were swiftly and harshly dealt with.
Karen Truesdell Riehl's historical fiction, Helga: Growing Up in Hitler's Germany, is a remarkable and stunning work describing a young German girl's coming of age during World War II. I found myself unable to put the book down and felt compelled to continue following her story. I've read many nonfiction and fictional works dealing with this tragic episode in history, and Riehl's work stands up there with the best. Many of us have seen movies and read stories where Hitler Youth are described as heartless, zombie-like children gleefully denouncing their parents to the Nazis and self-righteously watching as they're dragged away. Most of us probably realized it was not really all that simple and clear-cut. Helga's story helps bring a new comprehension of the strains and complexities the most vulnerable members of German society were subjected to, and how their lives and the lives of their families were affected. Helga: Growing Up in Hitler's Germany is a major and valuable addition to World War II literature. It's most highly recommended.